For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God?
I am not too sure when I decided to start sitting on the far side of Church, where all the other students were, but convincing myself to sit with everyone else probably went along the lines of this:
Stop being so guarded all the time. Open up a bit, be friendly and sit where they are sitting.
So that Sunday rather than take a seat on the other side of the room from everyone else; I peered around to see if there was a free seat or even a face I noticed to the right of the hall. Feeling quite alien taking steps towards the other half of the auditorium I sat down, hoping no one would notice but I was met with smiles and brief hugs. I was accepted. The weeks that followed every Sunday I felt comfortable sitting with them, I will turn up to Church or any sort of gathering knowing that they would be there.
Then one day I no longer felt accepted, one day I no longer felt approved and shrunk back into my anonymity yet still wanting (way too much) to feel like I belonged, despite my bitter and insecure heart I continued to hang around desperate for their attention and to feel like I was part and not apart, to be with and not without.
And the question was finally asked, “Tosin, when did you stop going to Church to worship God?”
I had finally noticed it in the way I stopped singing from my heart, the way prayer barely escaped my soul. How chunks of sermons would return to me like shreds of paper that formed disjointed sentences. All the verses such as Galatians 1:10, Proverbs 29:25, John 5:44 and especially Jeremiah 17:5 that would pop up every now and then during quiet times were becoming clear. Like Jesus to the blind man, I was regaining my sight yet the people still looked like trees. My heart and mind had wondered away from my first love, and like a lighthouse in the distance his word spread throughout the darkness of my mind, ‘Come back to me’ (Joel 2:12).
I was confused and angry, angry that I wanted their approval so much, confused about what I do when I go to Church. (Yes it was that bad)
The Holy Spirit would remind me to go back to what you did at first. (Revelations 2:5)
“What did I do at first? Sit by myself again? Be the lone wolf? Oh no, Abba I can’t go back to that…” then he would remind me of what I said back when I was in first year of uni, a romantic and wishful me that said “Jesus, even if I don’t make any friends this year, I have you and that is what matters” and it would all flood back how I did absolutely nothing for people to like me and how God just brought the right people into my life and removed the wrong people. Though some days were filled with hours of a wrenching loneliness, a need to feel wanted and heard they were quickly met with joy and an invite not only to spend time with Abba but some more of his kids, who took a liking to me I do not know how. I was less stressed and didn’t care what others thought of me. I had a embarrassing zeal that shouted through opened windows and rooftops, “I belong to Jesus!”.
“But what if someone asks questions? What if they do notice that I am not hanging around them often? What if they think I am just being a hater?” I debated within myself.
“They, They, They! Isn’t it what I think about you that really matters?!” said the one who affirms me.
The following Sunday I stayed to the left of the auditorium, like a child on time-out I sat down with those who were unfamiliar and much older; often leaving for a few weeks without branching off at the end of the service towards the familiar to say hi. Something returned to me that I thought had died, though there were a whole load of other issues going on and occasionally I would return to sit with the students of the Church, it finally came back and it was zeal.
Seeking the approval of people and not of God’s I found kills your joy and zeal but what I didn’t realise at the time was that we often seek the approval of others when we don’t believe or know what God says about us. We look at ourselves and others in the same way that we see ourselves or look to others to find who we are and what we are worth. People become something to be feared because our hope is in them rather than in God and people make great friends, partners and colleagues but they make terrible gods.
We won’t speak up about certain issues or things that pain or bother us, maybe it is the other way around and we do outrageous things for likes and retweets, a selfie a day, titles and awards, people we met or worked with thrown about so that others may verify us, sometimes it could be dumping our baggage on others, maybe we play out stereotypes and indulge in ignorance and ‘ do as the Romans do’ just so that we don’t feel alone, just so to quiet the voices in out head that say we aren’t worth anything and cling and make gods of those who give us the slightest bit of attention, but nothing can fill that hole besides the one true God, Yahweh.
I think we can often talk about approval as though it were a Christian-Unbeliever problem but it happens even in the Church, even as a Christian to other Christians, we seek their approval so desperately because we do not believe the approval we now have through Christ Jesus. There is this damning thought that boils within a mind that has built it’s house on sand; that unless other Christians accept me, God won’t and as a result, we watch what we say, is it Christian enough? What we do or what we join and what we agree/disagree with just to get a few ratings and likes that will be here today and gone tomorrow. I can say the people no longer look like trees walking around, I can see now that the time when I was forgotten and overlooked by others was all God’s doing. He wanted me to come back, he wanted me to spend time with him again, he wanted me to cast all my cares and worries on him lest I enslave myself once more chasing after people.
It dawned on me today that the reason I didn’t believe God accepted me was because I didn’t know any verses that told me that I was. I have a saviour who says he will never cast me out (John 6:37), I have been accepted by Christ (Romans 15:17) and I was chosen before the world began, predestined to be part of God’s family and that God WANTED and was HAPPY to choose me. (Ephesians 1:3-6) because of Jesus, I am 100% approved!